Spartans know that overall nutrition is best received through whole foods, fruits, and veggies. But we also know that training is demanding on the body. The right fuel nutritional bar can provide us with electrolyte replacement, amino acids for muscle repair, carbohydrates for quick energy, and fats for caloric density and satiety.
Athletes have long turned to bars as a source of fuel. Bars can be a quick, convenient, easy way to get the nutrition you need all wrapped up in a portable package that’s great for the gym bag, in the car, and on the go. With the explosion of bars on the market, finding the right one can be tricky. It all comes down to matching the right bar to the fueling or refueling need. Let’s break it down.
Going the Distance or Short and Sweet
Your choice of bar should fit your overall training needs for the day. In the same way that you’d pack differently for a weekend getaway than for a week-long adventure, not every workout requires the same bar. Taking a short run? Your daily meal and snack intake will likely be enough to cover it. But if your workout is scheduled to be an hour or longer, you’ll want to think about your fuel. Before choosing a bar at random, check out the overall calories and choose the one that’s best for your workout. A single brand can offer multiple bar sizes and calorie counts.
Beyond the Basics
Many people will look at the basic protein and perhaps carbohydrate content of a bar. They’ll probably glance at the fats too. But let’s go beyond that. Bars specifically designed with athletes in mind will also offer a variety of vitamins and minerals specific to what an athlete needs for optimal performance. Bars with sodium, potassium, and magnesium will help replace and rebalance electrolytes lost in sweat. B vitamins and phosphorus for energy metabolism, vitamin C for immune health, and iron for red blood cell production are a few of the benefits that a bar can offer.
Energy and protein needs will vary from person to person, but here are some basic recommendations for choosing a bar to fit your training needs.
The workout: roughly 60 minutes long, moderate to high intensity.
The goal: pre-workout fuel or quick post-workout recovery.
The bar: similar to a small snack. Look for something with less than 200 calories with fast-digesting carbs, moderate protein, and a nice nutrient mix. Aim for a 2:1 or 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio. The Clif Mojo trail mix bar has a nice balance of carbs to protein for this recovery.
The workout: 60–120 minutes, moderate yet steady intensity.
The goal: pre-workout fuel or recovery, perhaps throughout the workout, depending on the style of training (running versus strength, monitoring for gastrointestinal upset with solid fuels).
The bar: This workout will require higher energy intake. Continue with a bar that offers a 2:1 or 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio. This will help maintain lean muscle while also replenishing glycogen stores. For most people, 200–250 calories will work. Clif’s new whey protein bar offers 14 grams of protein and 24 grams of carbs with just over 250 calories.
The workout: 120+ minutes in one workout, or you may be training twice a day. With this extended training often comes a lower intensity, but greater muscle use.
The goal: This bar needs to have some substance. Higher protein and calories from fats for caloric density will be important. Long duration workouts burn a lot of calories, and replacing these calories with food alone can be a challenge for some people. A bar can offer the required fuel with less volume of food.
The bar: Your bar should have decent protein content (aim for 20–30 grams), still have carbohydrates for glycogen replenishment, and should include fats for caloric density. Odds are your body will be craving the electrolyte replenishment plus added vitamins and minerals for overall nutritional replenishment. Combined with an electrolyte replacement drink for hydration, your bar should also provide a relatively balanced mix of sodium and potassium. A bar with 250 calories would pair excellently with a couple of pieces of jerky and hydration source to quickly get your body ready for the next beatdown. If you’ve earned your finisher medal at a race, you’ve no doubt seen a bar that meets this criteria: it’s the Clif Builder’s protein bar.
Make It Yours
Homemade energy bites are fun to make and can provide the great benefits of commercial bars. Here is a link to one of my favorites: http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/no-bake-energy-bites.
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